When it comes to special needs ministry, what if God isn’t waiting for us to have all of the answers, but God is waiting on us to simply accept the assignment of loving our neighbors as ourselves?
I often say that my son Joel, who has autism, has been the greatest spiritual teacher of my life. The lessons haven’t always been easy, and sometimes they’re not clear until later. But year after year after year, Holy Spirit knowledge pours forth from this young man and blesses all whose eyes and ears are open and receptive. And that includes his church.
There are so many great ideas out there about starting a disability ministry. But unless we take these ideas and start walking, they will mean nothing. There are things that we’re going to have to throw off—much like Bartimaeus had to throw off his cloak to freely run to Jesus. What is your cloak? What is the thing you need to throw aside in order to take your next step in starting a disability ministry?
Keep listening to the voice of God as you ask: What gift has this person been given by God that might benefit those around them, and especially the Church? A person just being present is a gift to those around them. Who are we to judge who can and cannot have a relationship with God, or who can and cannot serve Him?
Many churches are at a place of that first talk with a pastor, where a concerned layperson might discuss whether churches should be worried about mental health. The American Psychiatric Association has created a guide is to equip faith community leaders to help with a mental health need, because “faith community leaders are gatekeepers or ‘first responders’ when individuals and families face mental health or substance use problems.”
Every parent has a moment when they sit down face-to-face with their child to have an important conversation. The conversations may look a little different, but they have the same goal: to let children know that they are exceptional, unique and wonderful, and God has a plan and purpose for their lives.
As a young mom of four children, two of whom have disabilities, including severe intellectual impairment, I ask God tough questions. I imagine many ministry leaders wonder some of the same things I do, but fear asking. It’s natural to wonder and it’s okay to ask. It’s in wrestling with such questions, pressing into Jesus in prayer and exploration of His Word we not only find answers but gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus intended the Church to be.
God has used my blindness to others in so many ways. In my ability as a songwriter, I’m able to describe things in a deeper way than people who can see. I show people trust-in-action as I follow other people’s directions. Most of all, I think I’m able to show people that, despite my being totally blind and using a power wheelchair, there is still joy.